What to Watch Verdict
Some hits and misses in another episode splitting time between the election campaign and aerobics, which has us longing for more of the latter.
💃🏻 Finding out more about Bunny's backstory.
💃🏻 Sweet himbo Tyler is far more of a catch than any of the other men.
💃🏻 Sheila standing up to Jerry.
💃🏻 The very funny beach recording session.
💃🏻 For every step forward, something pulls Sheila back.
💃🏻 The election campaign slows down the episode.
This post contains spoilers for Physical "Let's Agree to Disagree.”
Read our latest review here.
A prevailing trend of late is to treat the first season as an extended pilot. HBO’s adaptation of Perry Mason begins with the titular character working as a private investigator before he becomes the world-famous lawyer, and Apple TV+ only scratched the surface with the Fox family’s perilous journey in The Mosquito Coast. After five episodes it is clear that Physical is also playing the long game and the glimpse of Sheila’s splashy TV aerobics gig five years in the first episode is far off. This tactic can feel like stalling and the shining pink leotard on the horizon is meant to get viewers to stick around to see how Sheila goes from an unhappy marriage to success. It takes some of the tension out of the arc knowing she is destined for stardom and the political campaign comes across as a distraction as a result.
One of the main pacing issues with Season 1 so far is Danny’s (Rory Scovel) run for office takes up a lot of space, and while this is an effective choice in creating a suffocating atmosphere in the Rubin household, it also makes those scenes feel somewhat repetitive. There are flourishes in “Let’s Agree to Disagree” that reveal progression, however, by the end of the episode, Danny and his campaign manager Jerry (Geoffrey Arend) are back to minimizing and belittling Shelia. Once again, Sheila’s background is used as a weapon, and this time it is to cajole her into playing the dutiful politician’s wife who will attend every potluck on the schedule. Jerry accuses her of being shallow for wanting to skip these unglamorous events but it goes much deeper than elitism, and her issue here is the amount of food she will encounter — if she doesn’t try every dish then someone will get offended. She brings up Pat Nixon and Jerry’s anti-establishment edict as a way to navigate these waters and when Danny is out of the room she verbally eviscerates Jerry. It isn’t her inner monologue that is taking charge for once, and this bolder Sheila makes an appearance when it is just the two of them.
On this occasion, Sheila speaks her mind, but Jerry asserts his authority in the final scene when an attack TV ad reminds them of her campaign video suggestion. She is ahead of the game, or rather, she is aware of how TV is as vital as grassroots operations, and yet she is still accused of dropping the ball on this one. Considering the first television attack ads date back to the 1964 presidential race you would think a seasoned campaign manager like Jerry would be all over this. He has booked Danny on a talk show, so he isn’t completely useless, but it also takes Sheila’s pep talk (and a joint she has procured) to pull her husband off the ledge. When Danny hits his talking points he is an effective candidate and while he is oblivious, it is also important for him to show a modicum of talent — even if Shelia is the brains of the operation.
Sheila has a lot on her plate as she is juggling being a dutiful wife and kick-starting her own career. Jerry is dismissive of her desire to “jazzercise” but little does he know that she plans to start an empire of her own. Getting Bunny (Della Saba) to agree to expand from in-person classes to embrace the era of VHS (or the superior Betamax) is an uphill battle as she thinks this will impact the number of people who visit the studio. She argues that if they can pay once for the tape they never have to step through those mall doors again. Sheila counters that this will target people who don’t feel confident doing these moves in public and who could do with the confidence boost. Greta (Dierdre Friel) is a prime example of this school of thought and Sheila is ahead of the curve on this one too.
By the mid-90s, aerobics was the norm, and as an uncoordinated teen, my first brush with this form of exercise only proved it was not the exercise class for me. Watching Physical is pushing those memories to the forefront and purchasing the Cindy Crawford workout VHS was how I countered (or attempted to) those shameful feelings of doing the grapevine in the wrong direction. I take this brief detour into my fitness past because creator Annie Weisman seamlessly captures the dualling feelings of empowerment and embarrassment. Last year when everything shut down and classes moved online, I joined thousands of others on Instagram live to embrace the community of Ryan Heffington’s joyful Instagram Live dance sessions that didn’t require expertise. During a time when the world lacked hope, those routines never failed to lift my spirits. Both experiences linger when I think about when Sheila talks about the power these videos could have combined with the pressure we put on ourselves.
Sweet himbo Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci) explains that Bunny is a visual thinker and suggests capturing some workout moves on the camera she stole from Ernie (Ian Gomez), to sell the idea. When it comes to a filming location, the beach wins out and because Ernie thinks the nanny stole his camera, Sheila can’t leave Maya (Grace Kelly Quigley) with Greta as she is spiraling. For a dramedy, Physical often lingers in the darkness but the aerobics recording session is hilarious; from Sheila launching sand in Tyler’s face when she does a high kick or having to run after her young daughter mid-take. She goes to an electronic store to convert the footage and the salesman smugly flexes his Betamax knowledge before he assumes she has recorded an X-rated home movie. When she watches herself back, the inner critic is at its loudest before it is silenced by Ernie’s unusual home video they have half-recorded over. His kink is women shaving their heads and it is understandable why he is so desperate to get his camera back. Greta worries he is having an affair but this is not the conventional cheating she imagines, and Sheila summarizes to Tyler that it looks like Ernie has a thing for Manson girls — Tyler is far less judgemental.
Sheila is now in possession of this secret and one she cannot share without implicating herself. If she can curtail her disdain for Greta and maybe even open up, then this friendship could become something wonderful. It is predicated on false narratives and now Greta has seen Sheila in full double life mode after she catches her in a lie when she ditches the double date. The way Stephanie Laing directs the dinner scene is dizzying, which also makes it hard (and somewhat nauseating) to watch. Ernie and Danny are having a ball and are completely oblivious to both of their wives not touching any of the food. Instead of staying, Sheila cannot quieten her inner voice berating her body for how it looks on that videotape and she ends up back at the motel for one last junk food binge. Last week she stopped herself from completing the routine, but this compulsion cannot be beaten easily. It is unclear what Greta is going to do about Shelia’s flimsy excuse but once again the men of this show are oblivious.
Well, all but Tyler who lovingly offers to touch up Bunny’s roots with the peroxide she has prepared. It is an incredibly tender moment that highlights how the seemingly most unstable couple — thanks to their fluid living arrangement — is the one with the tightest bond. Earlier this season, Bunny made an offhand comment about no one really being from America, and “Let’s Agree to Disagree” gives insight into her family and why her bottle-blonde job is more than a fashion choice. After receiving a letter written in Arabic, she meets a woman at the mall who turns out to be her sister Georgette (Sara Seyed). Here we learn that Bunny’s real name is Badiaa and she has been cut off financially from her family. Georgette mentions a ceasefire and the recent bombing of Beirut that flattened their family home — the Lebanon bombing occurred in July 1981 (for anyone wanting a precise timeline update). Bunny’s desire to blend in goes against her family’s wishes and it is notable that she switches to English when her sister makes disparaging remarks about her hair. Bunny’s prickly exterior makes sense, as does her reluctance to work with Sheila (not to mention the fact that Sheila blackmailed her). However, after Tyler showed her the rough footage, Bunny is on board with this workout video idea, and this storyline slowly edges forward.
The video camera is now at the center of the aerobics and political storylines, which will mean Shelia will have to work twice as hard to fulfill both roles. It is also a major part of the Greta arc and all signs point to this piece of equipment unraveling the precarious tightrope walk Sheila is already walking. At this halfway point, Physical is still struggling to balance all its storylines, but all of the pieces are slowly falling into step.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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